Vanessa Blakeslee - "Have You Forgotten?" "Girl From Illinois," and "Escape, Revenge."

Have You Forgotten

Have you forgotten me?

you guess that I’m a star in space,

light years away from you,

but what if I’m right here,

sitting on your shoulder as you

stir your sugar-filled spoon

through the coffee?

What if I am the steam and

the piping heat of the water and

the floating dark granules themselves?

 

Have you forgotten me?

You have.

You don’t love me anymore.

Only I appear when you least suspect:

in the face of the Hindu girl

peering out on-screen,

through the darkened movie theatre,

straight through you,

waking up your shuttered heart,

rapping on the windowpanes of

your soul.

 

You have forgotten me

only until I remind you.

Is this a haunting?

You will not allow yourself

to be haunted.

You aren’t fickle enough.

 

But watch as you forget,

if you keep choosing to forget.

Who knows when and where

I might show up—

in the aside of an email twenty-questions,

or in your mother’s determined datebook

with its graveyard of anniversaries,

in the black eyes of my sister’s newborn son,

or in the frozen branches

hovering over the road you traverse

only at Christmastime.

 

Because I live, only not as you think.

I live, and I am free,

more free than you imagine

your forgetfulness to enliven you.

 

Forget my body as I have forgotten it:

a shrugged off sweater, stained.

 

Girl from Illinois

-for Nam on her 90th birthday

Time for a walk, she sings,

and we are out the door.

Watch for cars. We keep

to the side of the road

where the dandelions poke

their furry heads. Careful,

don’t slip in the mud!

It’s April, that means rain.

Find the opening in the woods,

our secret door,

past fallen trees, bare naked,

like spines of giant fish

caught in the patches of sun.

We climb the moss-covered log

and mind our bottoms

because of the wet, and listen—

water chiming over rocks,

there’s the creek up ahead.

So cold it nips fingers, toes.

Don’t get your sneakers wet!

Choose your stones, throw them in,

and make a wish.

 

Moody sky over prairie,

a different April day.

Muddy, but still good for

walking dogs or pausing

at the pond to hear the frogs.

Pinch a fuzzy pussy willow,

Watch the daffodils grow.

All these things and more

you taught me, that I know.

 

Escape, Revenge 

Her brothers welcomed the creature

as if it were one of their own:

at full length, it draped along

the spine of the living room couch

like a flattened out rubber tire.

But while the boys wore the thing

across their shoulders and paraded with smirks,

the snake’s head peered back at her

from against the thin white ribbing

of the muscle shirt

which served as its royal carpet,

and she felt the eyes drink her in,

escape or revenge.

 

The boys neglected to name it,

and she imagined that the creature

mulled over this namelessness

as one brother first unwound the

lower half of the serpent

and then grasped its neck

and slung the body off his shoulders,

like girls on a playground

might hand off a jump rope.

The receiving brother took more care

in rewinding the serpent,

but continued without a gap in breath.

Only the girl noticed

the creature’s flicker of tongue—

escape or revenge.

 

Then one day,

her eldest brother suggested they bring

the snake to show his biology class, a quick A.

By “they,” he meant her, too.

He draped the creature across her upper back,

but the thing, seven feet too long,

ended up curled in her arms like a baby.

She held her breath

outside the chugging truck,

the warm muscle of the snake a strange shawl.

Its neck craned, tongue flickered,

and the two slit eyes considered her:

escape, revenge.

 

But in the car, on the way to school,

her brother rested the snake in a nest at her feet.

Up cranked the radio, the Animals,

and every once in awhile,

she glanced down to beware of

the bite which might strike.

But when they parked, the creature had snaked off,

its tail the flicker of a flag as it wriggled up,

underneath the dash.

 

Oh, shit, said her brother.

From the payphone, he dialed the mechanic

who said, Snake? and hung up.

Suicide by dashboard asphyxiation, she said,

and kicked a tire. She smiled.

Escape, revenge.

 

Vanessa Blakeslee’s work has been published in The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Green Mountains Review, among many others, and her short story “Shadow Boxes” won the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize. She has been awarded grants and fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, and was a finalist for the 2011 Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University. An alumnus of both the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ conferences, she also earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Posted on December 7, 2013 .